According to me, one of the major flaws in the story as well as the screenplay is the fact that the husband who incites his wife to drink and promises to spend more time with her actually reneges on his promise and smirks at his wife’s newfound love for alcohol. No wonder, Indian audiences found this difficult to swallow. Feminism was still alien to India then.
Rehman, the character actor, was close to Guru Dutt in real life. He was a permanent fixture in Dutt's films. He does justice to his role. Waheeda has her moments of charm despite limited screen time. Hemant Kumar was very close to Geeta Dutt and allegedly landed the film as a favour. Being a Bengali, he was the right choice and to his credit, he has done a great job as the music composer of “Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam”.
For both Meena Kumari and Geeta Dutt – both of whom had a troubled marital relationship with their respective spouses- “Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam” marked the beginning of the end. Geeta sang the songs for which Meena lip-synched. Two years after Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Guru Dutt committed suicide in 1964 leaving a widowed Geeta Dutt completely shattered. Meena Kumari officially separated from her husband the same year.
Geeta Dutt never recovered from this personal loss and took to drinking. It was her brother who took care of her three little children. Heart-rending indeed! Her plans to enter Bengali cinema came unstuck. Her role as a leading lady in the 1967 Bengali film(Bahu Baran) did not win any laurels. It is strange how such a great talent became an outcaste in Bollywood.
Asha Bhosale gained an edge due to Geeta’s personal loss as the latter started losing offers to sing. But one has to hear the songs of “Anubhav”(1972) to understand the range and depth of Geeta’s singing. “Anubhav” was the last movie that Geeta Dutt gave playback for. The music was by Kanu Roy. Geeta’s prolonged absence from the music world was clearly Bollywood’s loss. She passed away in 1972 in the same year when Meena Kumari’s liver also gave away due to cirrhosis. That the lives of these two women ran on parallel tracks is a strange coincidence indeed.
Alvi shared his pain and anguish in his biography that was penned by former TOI journalist Satya Saran. Alvi was a close confidant of Guru Dutt who had spent the evening drinking with Dutt before the latter swallowed sleeping pills the same night.
What exactly transpired hours before Dutt took that fatal decision is still nebulous. Some records say that Dutt had an argument with his estranged wife Geeta Dutt the same evening. Guru Dutt wanted to meet his children but Geeta was defiant in not doing so. The resulting argument could have possibly led him to take that extreme step. Waheeda was shooting in Chennai and on hearing about her mentor’s demise she had to rush to Mumbai. Johny Walker too was shooting in Chennai and he accompanied her.
Veteran actress Mala Sinha was shocked on hearing of Dutt’s death because on the same fateful night he had a conversation with her regarding the shooting of their movie “Baharen Phir Bhi Ayengi” the very next day. India thus lost a great and talented film maker who was much ahead of his time.
With the rumour mills insisting that the film was ghost directed by Dutt, Alvi felt robbed of the real satisfaction that would ideally have accrued to him. Sahib Biwi Aur Classic is still considered a classic as far as Indian cinema is concerned. Alvi did not direct many films thereafter. His next “Baharen Phir Bhi Ayengi” starring Tanuja, Mala Sinha and Dharmendra(who had to be roped in after Dutt’s demise) was a damp squib despite its memorable music. The He-man and Dutt were poles apart in terms of their screen image and real life persona.
One cannot think of any other actress other than Meena Kumari in the role of “Choti Bahu”. The role fitted her perfectly. Curiously enough, there were startling similarities between her personal life and the role of “Choti Bahu”. Her reel image collided with her image in real life and this made Meena Kumari’s portrayal of Choti Bahu even more alluring. Her histrionic abilities received a fillip after this portrayal. 57 years after the film released to critical acclaim, Choti Bahu still lives on in our hearts. The film’s soul stirring music will continue to be Indian cinema’s pride. It is no wonder that Guru Dutt had plans to abandon the movie if Meena did not do the role.
Despite the strength of her character, Choti Bahu comes across as a woman who has a child like ebullience about her. All the characterizations in the film are well etched out. Guru Dutt and Meena Kumari later did “Saanjh aur Savera”(1964) which had a good run at the box office.
It is painful to note how great talent such as Meena and Geeta got wasted due to personal sorrows in their lives. If only better sense had prevailed and the two women had decided to fight back, history would have been witness to the careers of two successful women in Bollywood. It is sad that Guru Dutt had to take that extreme step despite having friends like Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor.
One really cannot blame Meena Kumari as she had suffered a lot as a child(her parents fought a lot). During her childhood, Meena’s lunch mainly comprised rotis made the previous day. Even she became famous as a leading actress, “the baasi” roti remained Meena’s favorite dish. Her impulsive decision to marry a much married man(Kamal Amrohi) just as her career was blooming in 1953(after the super success of “Baiju Bawra”) was perhaps the biggest mistake of her life. When Meena Kumari died in March 1972, Nargis who was a pillar of support to Meena wrote that – Meena had eventually been set free from a world she never belonged to.